Searching without risk is merely looking, and Todd Clouser is always searching. With his career only just underway, the young guitarist, composer, vocalist, and bandleader has fearlessly inserted himself into numerous demanding scenarios that have both pushed and honed his musicianship and instincts. The Minneapolis native has not only challenged his playing by working alongside an array of deft musicians: he profoundly shook up his life five years ago, relocating to Mexico in search of his voice – driving ten days straight with just his guitars and dog for company. For Clouser, improvisation and invention are not just something that’s done for ninety minutes at night on the bandstand.
This adventurous spirit has eased and enriched Clouser’s transition from instrumental firebrand to vocalist and frontman, a role cemented by his latest album, Man With No Country. Only the second record to feature his songs and vocals, Man With No Country – available September 17, 2013 on Amulet Records – lashes Clouser’s insightful, questioning compositions to dynamic musical backdrops that roil and churn with a keen intensity born of focused, intent improvisation. “For years,” he explains, “I’ve been playing instrumental music exclusively – but, at the same time, writing a lot of songs. It’s only over the past year that I’ve added in my voice. It took some time for me to get comfortable with using my voice expressively. I had to overcome nerves, self-doubt…for me, it felt like a brave decision.”
While his previous vocal excursions, featured on one of several projects he has self-released, were in a more tempered, spoken vein, Clouser’s vocals on Man With No Country are explosively expressive. Much of the credit for his awakening goes to the album’s renowned producer, drummer, and sonic architect, Anton Fier (Golden Palominos, Lounge Lizards, Feelies, Pere Ubu, and more). Having worked as a producer with singers as varied as Michael Stipe, David Thomas, Jack Bruce, Syd Straw, John Lydon, Matthew Sweet, Lori Carson, and innumerable others, Fier’s guidance and trust was critical establishing Clouser’s confidence.
Through his songs, his unbridled guitar playing, and his singing on Man With No Country, Clouser had the opportunity to engage many of his musical heroes, such as Fier, trumpeter Steven Bernstein (Sexmob), bassist Tony Scherr (Jesse Harris, Jenny Scheinman), and drummer/percussionist Billy Martin (Medeski Martin & Wood) head-on, across a program of scorched-earth ballads and searing rock songs. The result is a tumultuous, heart-rending, and unflinching album set bravely at the intersection of verbal wit, melodic grace, and instrumental daring—a message of the moment, birthed in the moment.
While defined by the intensity and immediacy of strong musical personalities interacting in real time, the creation of Man With No Country was actually the product a great deal of soul-searching, during which Clouser and Fier constantly asked themselves difficult, probing questions – then sought the answers in their music. Originally, Clouser enlisted Fier to play drums on a marathon 10-hour session, where many of the album’s songs were first recorded. Without rehearsal, the musicians were reading from carefully prepared charts, and Clouser played guitar without singing – which was to be added later.